Cameras

Canon G1 X Review

Canon arms the G12 body with a huge new sensor, creating the high-end G1 X.

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Introduction

Canon's new PowerShot G1 X is highly reminiscent of the popular PowerShot G15, yet it represents the start of an entirely new product line. The star of this show is a gigantic new 1.5-inch CMOS sensor, larger than the Micro Four Thirds standard and much bigger than the G15's 1/1.7-inch unit.

These specifications come at a steep price, though: The G1 X retails for $799.99. This Canon is clearly intended as a compact companion for intermediate and advanced photographers. The G1 X sizes everything down but the sensor, but if it can't come close to pocketability, will anyone care?

Design & Usability

The familiar G-series design belies the huge sensor within.

If you've seen the last-generation PowerShot G12, you've pretty much seen the G1 X. The aesthetic changes are subtle, often small enough to miss even when the two models are lined up side by side. In general, the design of the G1 X has been updated to a more angular appearance for 2012—similar to the new G15, but retaining many of the G12's standout hardware features, including the optical viewfinder and articulating LCD.

The optical finder isn't through-the-lens, which means that it's inaccurate and doesn't cover the entire frame.

It's a little disappointing that Canon stuck with the same tired point-and-shoot viewfinder. The optical finder isn't through-the-lens, which means that it's inaccurate due to parallax error (particularly when focusing up close) and doesn't cover the entire frame. The finder does feature a zooming mechanism—as the lens zooms in, so does the viewfinder—but this hardly replicates the 1:1 reproduction and fine detail that a good electronic viewfinder can achieve. When zoomed in, the most obvious issue is that the lens itself blocks part of the viewfinder's field of view. Why Canon can't find room for an EVF in their $800 budget is beyond us.

As for handling, a few important ergonomic features, specifically a knurled right handed grip on the face of the camera and a large rubberized thumb rest in between the playback and video shortcut, truly enhance the overall feel. Texture goes a long way here, particularly on the thumb rest, which has to rely on surface friction rather than a raised lip on the side. We're also fans of the articulated rear 922k-dot LCD, which provides plenty of flexibility for framing shots at tough angles.

Features

All the manual control you could ask for, with some creative options thrown in as well

One look at the G1 X gives you a sense of the feature-set. All those buttons and dials must provide plenty of direct control, right? From scene modes, to burst shooting, to video, this camera offers a host of options. Starting with the on-camera controls, you'll find both front and rear control dials, as well as a clever nesting of the mode dial, and an exposure compensation dial. This provides immediate access to most exposure control options, enabling quick shooting adjustments on the fly.

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Speaking of the mode dial, twisting it will let you move between the various shooting modes: PASM modes, two user-customizable settings, and full auto, scene, and video modes. The exposure compensation dial underneath is a nice touch, providing quick and easy adjustments to brightness while shooting in any mode other than full manual.

The G1 X strikes a solid balance between meeting the needs of advanced shooters and catering to less experienced point-and-shooters.

The G1 X strikes a solid balance between meeting the needs of advanced shooters and catering to less experienced point-and-shooters. As such, there are features like in-camera HDR, creative filters, and scene modes counterpointed with 14-bit RAW output, manual modes, and customizable controls. It's an interesting combination, one that gives G1 X users a great deal of room to grow as they learn more about photography.

Performance

Armed with a DIGIC V processor and a new 1.5-inch sensor, the G1 X isn't messing around.

Much has been made of the Sony RX100 and its 1-inch sensor, but the G1 X beat it to market by several months; clearly, Canon had the foresight to realize that large-sensor compacts were an untapped area of the market. While the G1 X didn't perform as well as Sony's sterling new compact camera, it did offer solid high ISO performance, excellent sharpness, and decent dynamic range.

The G1 X did struggle in a few tests, however. In particular, color fidelity and shot-to-shot speed were disappointing. Poor color accuracy is a surprise, given that Canons are traditionally the strongest performers we see in that category. But hey, make use of those 14-bit RAW files and it's not really a concern.

The G1 X captures shots at just 1.9 frames per second in its normal continuous burst mode.

The shot-to-shot time is a little harder to swallow. While the larger sensor no doubt makes fast readout difficult, the G1 X captures shots at just 1.9 frames per second in its normal continuous burst mode. You can pump it up to 6 fps by using the dedicated burst shooting scene mode, but that's an inconvenience that shouldn't be tolerated on a camera clearly aimed at a more advanced shooter. With other cameras in this class easily firing at up to 10 fps in a burst, the G1 X's showing can only be called poor.

Conclusion

It offers solid performance, but the G1 X is largely matched by smaller, cheaper options.

Rarely do we see such an expensive, specialized camera make its way to the fixed-lens market. At $800, the Canon PowerShot G1 X should appeal exclusively to intermediate and advanced photographers, buyers who—let's face it—probably already own a DSLR. So the question becomes, does the G1 X succeed as a companion camera, a lightweight backup for run-and-gun shooting?

The dense body is still quite a bit larger than most compact cameras—far too big for a pocket. In terms of portability, we're not sure this model represents the form factor those intermediate customers will be looking for. At least the G1 X is lighter than a DSLR, but even so, it's not by much. At over 500 grams with the battery, this is still a hefty piece of hardware.

But we'd be willing to bet many users will overlook these issues if the tradeoff is superior image quality, and to a certain extent this is the case. The G1 X is one sharp camera, acing our resolution test with one of the highest scores we've seen. The problem is that the G1 X isn't alone in trying to put a large sensor in a fixed lens camera. The Sony RX100 offers a slightly smaller 1-inch sensor, but provides image quality that outpaces this Canon's in almost every way. That the RX100 is also small enough to fit into your pocket and offers a similar level of control for $150 less is another nail in the G1 X's coffin.

We see the PowerShot G1 X as a miss for Canon. We had lots of fun shooting with it, and we love the shots it captured as well. But an $800 price tag and the ongoing renaissance of mirrorless cameras mean that there are just too many better, cheaper options available. This is a fine camera, but one we can't recommend given the competition.

Comparisons

Canon G1 X Vs. Canon G12

Science Introduction

The Canon G1 X pairs a 1.5-inch CMOS image sensor with a DIGIC V processor, resulting in some excellent shots in limited light at high ISO settings. We found that the camera handled noise quite well in general, though we were disappointed that this came at the expense of Canon's usually stellar color accuracy. We were also dismayed that Canon wasn't able to produce a faster camera; the G1 X's shot-to-shot performance lagged behind most of the field. With almost the entire high end compact camera market (as well as many entry-level system cameras) offering similar or better performance at lower price points, the G1 X simply doesn't do enough to impress us.

Noise Reduction & Detail Loss

The G1 X handles noise quite well, especially at low ISO speeds.

The G1 X does a great job compensating for image noise. At the lowest ISO setting, our tests recorded only 0.44% noise, and this figure doesn't cross 1.00% until you crank it up to the highest sensitivities. From ISO 100 to 3200, noise increases steadily and predictably, suggesting an even-keeled noise reduction algorithm is in use across this section of the spectrum. A more aggressive technique seems to kick in after ISO 1600, and noise levels spike thereafter, just as we expected. Still, even at ISO 12800, image noise maxes out at an impressive 1.55% thanks to some heavy-handed noise reduction.

The majority of destructive noise is the luminance variety, and this will appear in the form of grain or specks. Chroma noise, the ugliest variety, appears as randomly colored splotches, but this type of noise is less apparent on the G1 X. Unfortunately, noise reduction on the G1 X targets both types of noise, so loss of detail can be considerable when shooting JPEG. If you're planning on printing shots any larger than 5 x 7 inches, we recommend shooting in RAW and processing later.

Sharpness & Chromatic Aberration

The G1 X offered excellent sharpness compared to other fixed-lens models.

The G1 X offers some of the best resolution performance we've ever seen from a fixed-lens model, with sharpness levels peaking as high as 2500 lw/ph at MTF50 in certain zones—even at the longest focal length, which is typically softer. How did Canon achieve this? By cheating, of course!

Edge enhancement is very noticeable in all photos. This will manifest as thick dark bars occurring against high contrast edges. While this effect can fool our tests, it doesn't pass the smell test; oversharpening results in less lifelike stills. Sadly, there is no way to deactivate edge enhancement in the G1 X, except to shoot in RAW.

We detected very little chromatic aberration during our time with the camera, and this speaks volumes about the quality of Canon lenses (or perhaps the processing they employ to keep CA in check). On rare occasions, very light blue or yellow fringing appeared around high contrast edges. This effect was worst at the maximum focal length, but generally speaking the problem isn't bad at all.

Shot-to-shot Speed

The default continuous shooting mode is a disappointment, and a half-hidden burst mode does little to salvage things.

We clocked the continuous shooting mode at 1.9 frames per second. That's relatively slow, but perhaps not unexpected; the larger sensor of course means that the camera has more data to process. The full-resolution burst mode fared slightly better, achieving speeds of 4.66 frames per second. But again, that's still not among the best we've seen. Even cheaper fixed-lens models like the Panasonic LX7 smoke the G1 X handily in this regard. RAW continuous shooting is also supported, but it's even slower than either of these two modes.

This kind of speed could be worth it if the G1 X sported an APS-C sensor, or if it cost significantly less. But with a 1.5-inch sensor and at an MSRP of $700, there is very little here that we find appealing relative to the market.

Other Tests

We hoped for better.

The G1 X is a huge disappointment on the whole, if only because the potential was so great. A Canon compact with a huge sensor and a relatively fast lens? What could go wrong? Plenty, apparently.

While the price puts it against some tough competition, that should've also allowed Canon to include high-end components. That simply doesn't seem to the be the case here. With iffy color accuracy, inconsistent white balance, and the aforementioned speed issues, the G1 X is too often frustrating. While there is certainly a market for this camera, there is nothing in our test results that justifies the G1 X's bloated price tag.

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